Apr 25, 2008

Catemaco welfare

At times I actually get some rare thought provoking feedback from blog readers. The last one was a curiosity about social welfare programs in Mexico and specifically in Catemaco.

So consulting my notes and a little Googling:

Half of Mexico's federal social welfare funding is concentrated in a program called "Oportunidades"

Most of the state of Veracruz's social welfare programs are concentrated in an agency called DIF - Desarrollo Integral de la Familia (Integral Development of the Family).

In addition, the Veracruz Department of Civil Defense also assumes a large role in doles for the needy.

All municipios have their own DIF departments.

Oportunidades is the most popular program, apparently available to people without political connection (rare in Mexico) and provides stipends related to the educational status of children. In Catemaco 4,368 out of app. 11,000 families (2007) receive benefits of 200 to 2,000 pesos per month.

DIF of Veracruz, a sub-agency of the Veracruz Department of Health is the main provider on a state level. The agency is run by the wife of the Veracruz governor.
Although studded with many worthwhile programs, apparently none are uniformly applied and depend on political influence to be accessed. Nevertheless there are free milk, free breakfast, aid to the infirm and the aged and other typical relief programs. Their cost is nebulous.

The Civil Defense Agency typically provides help to the needy in disaster areas. And annual heavy rains, storms and flooding make this a very busy agency. Unfortunately just as annually there are news stories of politicians hoarding and hiding supplies provided by the agency to be used for political favors.

On a county/muncipal level, DIF again is the provider of local social programs, usually funded by state resources but presented as funds coming from the local administration. And that is about as transparent as a moonless night on Laguna Catemaco.
Catemaco's entire federally assigned budget for 2008 is 74.8 million pesos, about 1,600 pesos per person per year. Oviously few municipal funds are available for social welfare programs. Anecdotally, a last resort for many locals is a direct plea to the mayor for cash help to defray costs of surgery, burial or just possibly starvation.

Local benefits bestowed from who knows whose funds include free boats and motors, cement to replace dirt floors (program called Piso Firme in conjuction with CEMEX, a giant Mexican cement conglomerate), scholarships for needy children, raffles of refrigerators, candy and presents for Christmas, free seed for farmers, sheet metal roofing and dozens of others.

Health care is technically free and people are dying to get some of it. Clinics are understaffed, ill equipped and lack medications.

Electricity costs are heavily subsidized by the federal government on a staggered usage scale. Water, too, is inexpensive in its basic category.

The most popular welfare item is a despensa, a plastic sack filled with about 100 pesos of basic groceries often available to most anyone expected to attend the hundreds of annual political events.

Basically - (considering the minimum wage of less than 35 dollars a week)- social welfare programs often almost double the magnificent income of many of the most impoverished provincial Veracruz inhabitants.

Short description of Oportunidades
DIF of Veracruz


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